I’m approaching my one-month anniversary at SMG and I can’t believe how fast the time has flown. My name is Janine and I am the newest addition to this fabulous team. Prior to joining SMG, I spent three years in school studying journalism and public relations and another three years working at the City of Burlington as a communications advisor.

I think one of the hardest obstacles I’ve had to deal with while going through this transition from government to agency (other than the hours, LOL) is changing my writing style from formal and comprehensive to friendly and interesting. In government, I often used words like application, initiative, fiscal responsibility and, my personal favorite, critical. So instead of writing, “Here is the document you asked for.” I wrote, “As requested, attached is Word document you required.” Both say the same thing, but are written differently.

Another area of writing that I’ve found difficult to adapt to is letting go of my grammar impulses. You see, I am what Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, calls a “grammar stickler”. But over the past couple weeks, I’ve had to get over my comma-happy phobias and express myself through extreme punctuation, short-forms and emoticons.

Now, I’m not saying that the Internet is full of sentence fragments and split infinitives because it’s not. What I am saying is it’s more important in the social media world to get the right message out than it is to properly punctuate it. And since it is often difficult to interpret written tones like sarcasm and humor, sacrifices must be made.

I’ve explained how writing for social media and writing for government are different; now let me tell you how they are the same. The bottom line is that both are written for mass audiences. Whether it’s a blogger writing his daily post or civil servant developing her council report, their ultimate goal is to get their message across in the clearest way possible and to keep their audience moving from one paragraph to the next. It seems simple, right? Well, it’s not and any writer can tell you that.

Did you know that the average person only reads the first three paragraphs of every news article? And that that same person only scans a headline, looks at the photo and maybe reads a lead paragraph while surfing the Net? So if you are reading this right now that means I’ve successfully captured your attention for the entire post. Go me! But let’s test that theory. Leave me a comment telling me what your favorite punctuation mark is and why. Mine is the question mark because I love to ask questions. What’s yours?


  1. i like the exclamation mark! it makes everything so much more exciting! and i’m not using any capitals just for you!

    excellent post!

  2. I never really thought about what life as a government communicator would be like, but I can see that it is probably quite similar to the corporate-style of communications that I usually have to employ at my job.

    One issue that is important to think about is where to draw the casual line – at what point do you risk losing the message altogether? That said, being too formal can also alienate a lot of your audience as well.

  3. nicole

    I really enjoyed reading this internet-friendly, yet concise post! I have a tough time casually writing for my little wedding blog compared to the formal writing I’m used to at work.

    Kudos to you for making this a smooth transition and keeping us engaged as readers.

    I guess my favourite punctuation mark is the period.
    Gotta love making phrases into sentences. haha.

  4. Good post–short, concise and interesting. I’m a grammar stickler, too, so I often find writing for the web–particularly using Twitter–to be trying, to say the least.

    I don’t know that I’ve got a favourite punctuation mark; they all serve their own important purpose! I do enjoy a well (and properly) placed semi-colon, though. And I’m desperately trying to make exclamation points functional again.

    Of course, there’s always the wondrous “interrobang”, which I usually just write “!?”.

  5. Thanks, Everybody! I love the comments and the feedback!

    @Jamie – Exclamation marks are fun but they always remind me of someone yelling. I often find it difficult to read a post with lots of exclamation marks without thinking that I’ve done something to upset them.

    @Parker – I love your comment about comparing working for government to working for corporate/private. I can definitely see how they would be similar. One thing to point out is that everything written in government has the potential to be requested by the public/media through the Freedom of Information Act. I guess that’s why they use all those big words – hoping nobody will understand what they’re saying LOL

    @ nicole – It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who has found this transition to be a little difficult. But I guess we will eventually learn to turn it on and off like a light switch. Good luck with your wedding blog! What’s the URL?

    @Adam – A fellow grammar stickler! I echo your struggles with Twitter and exclamation marks. But “when in Rome”, right? My secret is I always satisfy my grammar impulses by sending grammatically correct text messages : )

  6. Krissy

    Well done J!

    I’ve been looking forward to reading this–Congradulations!

    As you can see, I too love the exclamation mark..but even more of a fan of copius amounts of symbols stuck together implying dirty words 😉

    I’m exciting to read your posts brimming over with your personality–but DO know where to draw the casual line… if you start lvng vwls out of yr wrds or adddddingggg tooo many lettersss to your wordsss like a hyper-obsessed teenager, I may have to hunt you down and smack you around a bit.

    Congrats again darling!

  7. I have two…

    First is “…” It’s kind of my own form of punctuation that either works as a *pause* in the sentence leading up to something important or resembles thought process…or afterthought. Also used in a thought lead-up as seen above.

    The other is using hyphens as a tool for emphases on something. For example, Timber and I went for a walk earlier and he insisted on stomping through every puddle – what a lil’bugger!

    Welcome to the blogosphere my friend!

  8. I guess you could call this my practice space for social media writing: nicoleandjesse.blogspot.com

    Thanks for the feedback Janine.

  9. Great post! This is so true when you work in any field for a while.

    I’ve been working in Finance for four year’s and have developed a very official corporate style. I took up blogging about 2 year’s ago just to try and break this and try and fins my own writing style again. Still looking!!!

  10. Lindsay

    Janine, you’re brilliant. I wish I could’ve taken what you’ve taken from our Journalism program. I look forward to your future posts. You’re a star.

  11. Great post. I really enjoyed hearing about your unique experience working for the city of Burlington.

Comments are closed.